4 Approaches to Better Space Utilization

Elegant Movable Wall System

Between concerns for the environment and a general desire to reduce the burden of home ownership and maintenance, we are seeing the beginning of a trend towards somewhat smaller homes.   We are still seeing a lot of McMansion homes being built but, smaller homes are a growing reality.   And smaller homes demand better space utilization in order to feel comfortable and spacious.

This trend towards more modest sized homes can be a win-win for home owners.   It’s not necessary to sacrifice the utility or feeling of spaciousness of larger homes.   As we noted in a previous post, there are many ways to enhance utility and a feeling of spaciousness.   Everything from the careful use of open concept design and built-in-storage, to incorporating larger  windows and less bulky furniture can make a significant difference.    Even more creative solutions are available when it becomes more important to improve space utilization.   These solutions not only improve space utilization but can also adapt to changing family needs, effectively creating space where, and when it is needed.

Folding doors

Accordion Door/Wall
The least expensive, and arguably the least effective partitioning system is Folding or Accordion style doors.   Typically these are not full room height and are generally made of more pliable materials.   Because they are usually quite thin, they don’t provide as good sound insulation as other methods.  They can, however, be a good option if there are two adjacent rooms that you occasionally wish to open for improved access and flow.   They are are also often used to hide larger areas of storage
Accordion Folding Doors

Movable Walls

Movable walls are sometimes referred to as ‘Operable Walls’, and are reasonably common in commercial settings.   Essentially, these are full height partitions/walls that can be easily moved or rearranged to change the configuration of a space.   Most are designed to slide into a wall, like giant pocket doors, or fold up in an accordion fashion.   They are substantially more robust than accordion doors and require heavy duty hinges and rails on the floor and ceiling.   The example below illustrates different types of operable walls in a residential context.   It is important to note that several examples incorporate tempered glass in the panels, however, other materials and laminates are possible.

Relocatable Walls

Guys Holding Up Movable Wall PanelsRelocatable Wall System

Relocatable walls are rigid structures that allow the space to be flexibly adapted to new uses.   They often require special tools and significant effort to implement and so may not be suitable for situations requiring frequent changes.   These products are most often used in commercial environments to accommodate the changing space needs of new tenants.  They are less useful in a residential environment, although the general concept could be used in adapting homes to different life stages.

Space Systems

Interesting space configuration systems are being conceived for use where space is very constrained, such as in micro-apartments.   They are used as a means of not just repartitioning a space, but also as a means to create and remove different rooms as required.     Rather than go into a long description of this technique and its benefits, it’s better just to provide a couple of examples in action.   Here are two videos of this type of approach being used in Spain, where space can be a greater challenge.


The MIT Media Lab has also been experimenting with smart home technologies and Space Systems as part of their CityHome project.   And a new company – ORI Systems – has been incorporated in order to bring this technology to market.  You may find out more about their products and availability at their website here.

Although the expense and complexity of a complete system of this type may not be justified in most Ottawa homes, it does offer some useful inspiration for creative ways of dealing with spaces that are hardly used – such as dining rooms.

In my own home, for example, despite the fact that I have a home office, my wife and children often use the dining room to do their work at home.   This is not ideal and I can imagine introducing a Space System to convert all, or part of the dining room into a more usable office environment as required.  Something I plan on doing to improve space utilization as part of my next renovation project.

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